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Reading program provides warm escape

January 24, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Outside the Washington County Free Library, it's a gray winter day. A blustery wind swirls a light snow across streets and sidewalks and the temperature hovers near freezing.

But inside the building, a group of children are on a tropical adventure, exploring Cuba and its colorful sights and sounds.

It's story time -- a chance for youngsters to escape from their regular routines on a Saturday morning and enjoy a good book.

But this particular book is not being read entirely in English. It also includes Spanish.

This is a bilingual program offered by the library to children across the county. In addition to the central library in downtown Hagerstown, similar story times are offered in Boonsboro, Smithsburg and Williamsport.

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According to Jocelyn Mojica, the library's bilingual cultural coordinator, the program is made possible through a grant.

"The library has offered story times for a number of years," she said. "But, from what I understand, this is the first time a bilingual story time has been offered."

Mojica said the program began in October and has been off to a slow start.

"We're still trying to get the word out," she said. "So far, we haven't had big turnouts, but the people who do attend are very appreciative and enthusiastic."

Mojica said she began her job at the library in August and serves as a liaison to the Latino community and schools. She also works in partnership with Girls Inc., lending a hand with the organization's book club.

What she has found, she said, is a "definite need for bilingual programs throughout Washington County."

"That's why I'm proud of the Spanish story time," Mojica said. "It's great for the Spanish-speaking community, but it's a wonderful opportunity for those who want to be exposed to another language."

With her own Puerto Rican heritage, Mojica said it's exciting for her to share her language with others.

"It's also exciting for me to see how much people enjoy listening to the stories. Even if they are not Spanish speaking, they embrace it," she said. "A good story is a good story, regardless of the language in which it is read."

Saturday's program featured the book "Me llamo Celia," or "My Name is Celia," the story of a singer who came from Cuba to the United States to make a name for herself.

Reading the book in English and Spanish, Mojica interacted with the children, explaining words and meanings.

Among those in attendance was May Walls of Hagerstown, who was accompanied by three young friends.

"Their mother and grandparents are from Colombia, so Spanish is spoken in their home," she said.

Walls said the idea for a bilingual program was great -- not only for the Spanish-speaking community, but for everyone.

"I think it's vitally important for people to know a second language," she said. "I also think it will become necessary for young people to know Spanish as they get older. This is a very good program."

In addition to Spanish story time, Mojica said the library offers a selection of Spanish-speaking books in the children's department as well as DVDs.

The next Spanish story time will be Saturday, Jan. 31, at 10:30 a.m. at the Washington County Free Library.

Mojica said more information, as well as a listing of dates and locations for upcoming story times, can be found on the library's Web site, www.washcolibrary.org, or by calling the library at 301-739-3250, ext. 197.

The programs are free and open to the public.

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